Eric and I said our goodbyes to Jordan and Dan and then decided to head out of Chile due to the lack of funds and the crappiness of the American dollar. We hopped a bus north to Santiago and then scooted back across the border to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina. For all the fancy bottles of wine that I have had while traveling down here, Mendoza was the source of it all so we took the oportunity to explore it a bit. We joined some new found friends from our hostel and took a bus to the outskirts of town where you can rent bicycles and ride around to about a dozen different old wineries for tastings and tours of the wine making processes.
Throughout the entire trip Eric has been wearing this smelly old baseball style hat that he got while he was a wildland firefighter in the Crater Lake National Park years ago. You might call it his lucky hat. It is well past its prime but like any lucky or favorite piece of clothing that that people may own, it is not easily given up.
After we had a two day battle of trying to assemble a pair of new 14 ft river rafts, an exploratory float on the Rio Negro was in order. As the rains poured down, we made two trips hauling each boat down to the river, through in out rods and gear and saddled up. The river itself is fast and narrow and no place for an inexperienced paddler to learn to row especially with the rising water levels. This opinion comes after the fact. Nobody had ever floated this river before. So when Eric volunteered to man the oars, nobody could argue with him especially since that meant that Tianna and I would be fishing. For the majority of the day we floated safely through the numerous hazards of fallen trees and shallow waters. It wasn´t until the the end of the day when we got into some trouble.
We had pulled over to scout out this huge log jam that was blocking the river. There was only a small channel in which one could get through. Jordan and Dan went through first in their boat and then Eric made his turn. We weren´t so lucky. Swift water slammed us up against the jam and in slow motion I watched as the left side of the boat began to rise out of the water and then it, the three crew members and our gear flipped over into the deep churning drink. Eric and I, having the good sense to hang on to the raft popped up right away. We glanced quickly to make sure that each was okay. Tianna on the other hand was still under as Eric grabbed her and brought he to the surface. I lunged for my cameras and gear that was floating away and was just able to grab them. By this time the other guys had come over to help and slowly we were able to get everyone to shore and all the gear recovered unharmed. Except for Eric´s hat. It was a pretty sketchy situation. But everyone was okay.
Once back at at the lodge, Tianna had decided that she had had enough of the great outdoors and left to head back home. Days passed and the fact that we still hadn´t caught any trout on the Negro, we opted to have a another go on the river.
Long story short, this picture is of Eric who after insisting that we have another look at the log jam, gave a battle cry of excitement as he saw his had hanging on a branch of the fallen tree. A boy and his hat are reunited once again.
I have never considered myself a baker let alone a good cook. But when four large boys have been working all day building rafts, cleaning around a lodge, and building river rock asado pits they tend to build up an appetite. Hence my motivation of being in a foreign country and having nothing but time, I started experimenting with baking. We used leftover lamb to make a stew and then I took lamb meat, made some dough and made empanadas (a staple dish of the locals in both Argentina and Chile that resembles a calzone except it is usually filled with a meat, egg, olives and veggies). I also took the opportunity to make my first pie. Great success!
After a month and a half of traveling in the Patagonia, I was finally able to meet back up with my brother Eric and his new Brazilian girlfriend, Tianna in Puerto Montt, Chile. I had heard word from a buddy of mine named Jordan that he was working on getting a new fishing lodge up and running for his employer and that we were welcome to visit.
We met up with Jordan and Dan, fishing guides for the Rapids Camp Lodge in Alaska and we took the ferry towards the small coastal town of Hornoprien. We crossed the bay while seals porpoised out of the water esorting us towards the opposite shore. If there was any indication about what our time would be like I only had to look down. Trucks filled with sheep to be sold and slaughtered and as the ferry edged closer to shore you could watch schools of fish riding along side the ferry.
We arrived at the lodge to be greeted by the caretaker who informed us that he had just killed a sheep for an asado that evening and had many boxes of wine to wash it all down. This would be the beginning of a week long habit of cooking gourmet meals.
After an incredible week with Monte, Ryan and I made our way down to his rafting buddy and fellow lodge owner Rex Bryngleson place called La Posadade los Farios Lodge located on the Rio Cisnes aka Swan River.
So during my time at El Saltamontes aka the Grasshopper, I got this idea to take a picture that would emphasize the idea that there were a lot of hoppers around the area. Never got around to doing it at Jose and Erika´s. But the idea came back top me when I came to Monte´s place and every step you took along the banks scattered thousands of them. The idea was that I would have someone with a bunch of grasshoppers cupped in there hands and then when I gave them the go, I would then capture the hoppers exploding out in every direction trying to escape.
Ryan volunteered his hands for the model shoot and now all I needed was the bugs. We spent upwards of an hour wandering and diving into grass and brush trying to capture enough grasshoppers. I figure we ended up with about a couple hundred which we kept in a plastic bottle until showtime. Everything worked smoothly except them. When I had Ryan open his hands it was like the hoppers were all stunned and they just clung to his hands without moving. After a couple shakes, a few did there part and complied to spring from his hands as pictured above. I still think the idea could work but for now it´s back to the drawing board.
We said our goodbyes to Jose and Erika and were shuttled northward up to Coyhaique to meet up with Monte Becker, owner of Patagonia Drifers. Monte runs his lodge with the help of his wife and her mother, brother, sister and their two little boys. Right away we started out fishing on a little lake that craddled large browns.
So in the middle of the week, I was out fishing with a couple of the clients at El Saltamontes. When photographing fly fishing, often times there are moments when not much is going on. Either your subject is untangling knots or the fishing may be slow. For the past half hour, we had been trying to hook into a brown trout we saw swiming in a particular eddy without success. Normally, it is in these situations that I will start looking beyond the subject for anything else that might catch my eye. It was during one of these moments when I was looking upstream away from the client when all of a sudden he shouts ¨Mink!¨ Sure enough I turn around to see this small brown weasel-like animal hoping upstream towards me. The client was on the opposing bank and I was on the side of the Mink. I watched as the mink scampered up the river rocks towards me with his eyes locked onto the fishing hole we had been occupying. Standing up on a rock, not ten feet away from me, he looked into the hole and dove out of sight. For the next minute we stood there dumbfounded as we watched this mink catch the very same brown we had been casting to and drag it up onto shore. I have never seen anything like it.
Mink like beavers are invasive species to Chile and Argentina and they have been threatening the native trout populations throughout numerous river systems down here. So when we got over the shock of being out fished by a 3 foot rodent, we tried to come to the rescue of the 14 inch brown and started trying to get it away from it´s captor. Our guide grabbed a stick in attempts to separate the animal from its catch. Mink fight back. After a hissing and stick scratching match the mink finally was able to drag the trout into a thick wood pile where our sticks could not reach. The trout was lost and the mink, in a victorious bragging move kept poping out of his little hole, chomping on bits of fresh trout and staring at us as if to say ¨Better luck next time fellas.¨ We admitted defeat.
Before the Jose and Erika, owners of the El Saltamontes Lodge, got into the fly fishing business, they had begun a very small Alpaca farming operation. Now many moons later, their Alpaca business has grown into and they have become the largest exporters of Alpaca fur in their region. I was able to watch a morning sheering session of some of the prized males that they own.
There is no such thing as shortage of fisheries for the El Saltamontes (aka espanol for “grasshopper“) Lodge. In just three days, Ryan and I were able to cram every minute with a large variety of water systems to fish.